The Anglo-catholic movement was mainly inspired by the nineteenth-century Tractarian emphasis on the identity of Anglicanism with the catholic tradition of the church prior to the Reformation. It has placed considerable emphasis upon the sacramental life of the church, especially the central importance of the Holy Eucharist, and the Apostolic succession of the episcopate. Anglo-catholics were concerned not only with doctrine but with restoring the liturgical and devotional expression of doctrine in the life of the Anglican Church. Some of these expressions, such as the use of eucharistic vestments, altar candles, and incense, led to the controversy over ritual in the later part of the nineteenth century in the Episcopal Church. From the 1860s onward, the movement advanced steadily in America, especially in urban areas and in the Midwest. Anglo-catholic leaders included James DeKoven, Ferdinand Ewer, Charles Grafton, and John Henry Hopkins, Jr. In the earlier part of the twentieth century, Anglo-catholicism was especially strong in Britain and the United States, and in some Anglican churches in Africa.
Anglo-catholics sponsored Congresses which produced serious theological essays on the pastoral ministry of the church and on social questions. In the United States and Britain, Anglo-catholics were frequently involved in ministry to the poor of the large cities. They were also active in ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The liturgical and theological scholarship of Anglo-catholics had considerable influence upon the revisions of the BCP in the United States in 1928 and 1976, including the central importance attached to the eucharist.
Controversies within Anglicanism in recent decades over the meaning of doctrinal tradition, the ordination of women, ecumenical conversations with Protestant churches, and liturgical renewal have led to divisions among Anglo-catholics. Some have seen themselves as a party within the church who are called to defend what they believe to be the traditions of Anglicanism. Others have supported theological and liturgical developments because they believe these changes are consistent with the catholic heritage of Anglicanism.